With The Audreys on a short hiatus, Taasha Coates took the opportunity to record her debut solo album. Ahead of USA shows and an Australian tour she spoke with Chris Familton about the musical journey – from songwriting to the studio.
“I just want to be the dirty old granny of Australian country music – Lucinda Williams-style!”
That’s Taasha Coates recalling her reply to producer Shane Nicholson when he asked her how she wanted to see herself on her solo album Taasha Coates and Her Melancholy Sweethearts. With a well-established and multi ARIA Award winning musical partnership with Tristan Goodall in The Audreys, Coates found herself facing the exciting yet nervous prospect of writing and recording her first solo album, an alt-country-tinged collection of personal experiences and emotions.
“I started planning the album late last year because Tristan said he wanted to take some time off from touring in 2016. I started planning and arranged to use Shane Nicholson (producer). Then in January and February my personal life hit the shitter and I thought it wasn’t going to happen,” explains Coates. “In March I went to Afghanistan to sing for the troops and that was so different and outside my experience and comfort zone. That made me feel brave and possibly a little bit crazy and I came home thinking, ‘I can do this! There’s no reason why I can’t do a solo record!’”
That emboldened attitude kickstarted a process that involved songwriting behind closed doors and testing out the freshly penned songs in front of live audiences. It was an approach that paid dividends and quickly produced the batch of songs that comprise the new album.
“It was just poor old lonely me writing the songs, which was a bit depressing,” laughs Coates. “It was hard to get started but once I did they came out pretty easily. I just had to get my momentum up. I went to the Grace Emily pub in Adelaide, where we used to play a lot in the early days of The Audreys, and said I wanted to play some shows and try out my new songs. I booked a weekly residency though April and for the first one I had five and a half songs and had to fill out the set with covers and and then by the last gig I had fourteen songs – so I just wrote them all in that month. The Monday after the last gig Shane and I went into the studio and got started.” Coates marvels.
Digging deep into personal songwriting inevitably opens up good and bad emotions and Coates was determined to let the songs remain in their original form as much as possible. “I didn’t go back and do a lot of editing, I just left them quite raw and honest. It’s personal and uncensored and I like that about it. I was at a place in my personal life where I couldn’t help going there. I had to open up some old wounds but there were some freshies as well. It just came out as it did.”
“There’s not a lot of metaphor and imagery in these songs. In The Audreys we’d always use a lot of third person narrative, biblical imagery and it was always more obtuse whereas this is more about me. I couldn’t have done that years ago with The Audreys, I would have felt too exposed,” confesses Coates. “You get thick-skinned over time. Now I’m like – whatever!”
Stepping out of an established writing and recording partnership meant Coates had to forge new working relationships, particularly in the studio. In Shane Nicholson she found a producer who shared similar musical tastes and could realise and enhance her vision for the album.
“We’d never really met many times, just here and there over the years as touring artists. When we got together in the studio the first time he pulled out a bottle of whiskey and suggested we crack that open and talk about the album and I said ‘I like you already!’ We really hit it off and had a great time! Shane and I tried to serve the song and we thought about what best worked for each one. Some needed a straight country vibe, others went weird and Crazy Horse. One got quite Portishead-y. If we started out trying something we could both feel quite quickly if it wasn’t working.”
For some people music is a job, for others it’s a hobby, or a necessary emotional outlet. For Coates it’s something she is clearly passionate about and which helps her deal with the joys and trials that life throws her way.
“In order to call it a job music would have to support me which it clearly doesn’t so I’d have to say it’s my love affair, my boyfriend – because I’m pretty crap at having real boyfriends!”she laughs. “Music is my lover.”